What's behind Okinawans' falling life expectancy?

dw.com -- Jun 11
An influx of foreign influences, ranging from fast food to less exercise, the stress of modern life, as well as a loss of the traditional sense of "ikegami" in younger people are all to blame.

For generations, the people of Okinawa prefecture in Japan have enjoyed the reputation of being among the longest-lived humans on the planet.

Medical experts and gerontologists have flocked to these semi-tropical islands off southern Japan in search of the secret to the local population's longevity, with most concluding it was a combination of a nutritious diet, regular exercise and the support of family and the broader community.

Today, however, that is changing. And while the wider Japanese population is living longer than ever before, the people of Okinawa are beginning to die earlier. And the blame is being pinned on younger generations turning their backs on the old way of life in the islands.

In 1980, Okinawa had the highest average life expectancy for both men and women, with men generally expected to reach at least 84 and women going on until the age of 90.

Life expectancy declines

But that enviable record has begun to slip. By 1990, average life expectancy for Okinawan men was only the fifth highest of the 47 prefectures in Japan and by 2020 had fallen to 36th place on the list. Okinawan women were top of the prefectural list until 2005 but were down to seventh spot in 2020.

In the 2020 census, conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Okinawan men lived to an average age of 80.27 and women reached 87.44.


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